ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - July 2001


Issue Highlight — Turnabout Is Fair Play
- Take a look back at one of Peter Block's best columns as he helps bridge the gap between employee and manager and offers his invaluable "Employee Manifesto."

 In This Issue...
Getting Back To Basics
Change Of Space
Banking On Quality
Is Your Quality Process "Running On Empty?"

Recommended By A Friend

Peter Block Column
Views for a Change

Brief Cases

Return to NFC Index

    Pageturners        Book Reviews with a Twist

"Abolishing Performance Appraisals: Why They Backfire And What To Do Instead"
By Tom Coens and Mary Jenkins

The standard bell-curve-mentality approach to performance appraisals has been a source of discontent for me for a long time, and I will read anything endorsed by Peter Block.

   While the title is somewhat of an oversell, I was not disappointed with the book. In fact, I enjoyed it very much and value the way it made me re-examine the topic of personnel evaluation. The book is organized in a logical, traditional three-part manner of here’s the problem, here’s the solution and here’s how to get there. The authors kick things off by laying out their case for “good intentions that never deliver.”

   In the beginning, the authors present the five functions of appraisal and point out that one of the major problems with traditional performance appraisal rests with confusion over purposes. They also do an excellent job of arguing that traditional performance appraisals reinforce paternalism and are out of step with today’s emerging workplace that emphasizes partnership. In Part II of the book they take each of the five functions and discuss what to do instead.

Best Feature of the Book: The major tactic used in the book is to contrast conventional assumptions with alternative assumptions. The summaries at the end of each chapter are a very helpful feature. Each chapter concludes with a summary of the two sets of assumptions. My interpretation of the title of the book is that to change performance appraisal, “abolish” in the authors’ terms, we need to establish a radically different culture based on newer, healthier assumptions. The authors present over 30 “healthier” assumptions, all laid on the bedrock assumption that “employees want to be and are fully capable of being responsible for themselves.”

Favorite Quotes: “The pain of performance appraisal is like a low-grade fever. It doesn’t prevent you from working, but you have this vague sense that something is not right.” (quote by Peter Scholtes.)

Favorite Story: A most enjoyable feature of the book is the use of case studies sprinkled throughout. I especially liked the A.P.O.P. (Annual Piece of Paper) process developed by Memorial Hospital in Fremont, Ohio and adopted and modified by Michigan State University. The University emphasizes quality of conversations rather than traditional rating scales. The conversations are structured around eight topics and a closing assessment as to whether or not (yes or no) the employee meets or exceeds current expectations.

A Disappointment: A minor letdown with the book came in Part III when the authors present a 16-step program to “recovery from appraisal.” I was hoping for deeper insights into building a new culture. The list was somewhat tiresome, but a small price to pay for a book that has much to offer overall. The authors did comment on some practical “half steps” that could be taken.

Reviewed by David Cox, Professor of Education, Arkansas State University, Jonesboro, Ark.

Abolishing Performance Appraisals: Why They Backfire and What To Do Instead, Tom Coens and Mary Jenkins, 2000, Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco, CA, ISBN 1-57675-076-0, 338 pages

Book Ratings:

= Pick it up today
  **** = Overnight it
*** = Snail mail it
** = At a library?
        * = Never mind

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